Rick Shiomi embraces the challenges of The Imaginary Invalid

Edwin Strout and Marc J. Paez.
Edwin Strout and Marc J. Paez.
Photo by Ron Ravensborg
It didn't take long for Rick Shiomi, who recently retired from his post as leader of Mu Performing Arts, to find a new challenge.

The now-freelance artist (and still a consultant at Mu) has directed the latest production at Theatre in the Round, Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid.

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"It's been a really fascinating experience for me," Shiomi says. "My impression of Imaginary Invalid was that it was a farce. The more I read it and in rehearsal, I saw that there are farcical moments but not in large a farce. It is a quirky, charming intellectual comedy."

Beyond the comedy, Moliere's 17th-century play is a screed against the medical practices of the day. Issues that Shiomi sees as still having currency.

"Three-hundred years later, we have all these incredible breakthroughs, but we are still suffering every day. We are still doing these things and have all these medications in the cabinet. There are drugs for depression. Drugs for cholesterol. Whether they work or not. In an interesting way, we are all hypochondriacs," he says.

Moliere doesn't hide his disdain for the medical profession in his script. "He hated doctors," Shiomi says. "Inside of the farce, it is not cynical. In many ways he was a progressive. He was saying we can't stay with the established order. I feel that affinity with him."

Working for a community theater like TRP also means that Shiomi is working with actors with a wide range of backgrounds and experience. 

"Interestingly enough, the work we did with Mu in the early days was with a broader group of actors. Now, there is a professional pool of actors. This is like going back to the early Mu days. I'm always interested in working with new and emerging actors," he says.

Actor Edwin Strout plays the invalid of the title, M. Argan. "He has been terrific. It is an epic role. He is out there all the time, and he has really worked well. We've had some fascinating conversations about it," Shiomi says.

The cast for Imaginary Invalid is quite diverse, including Asian, Latino, and African American performers. 

Design wise, the show also features an interesting mix. The characters who represent the status quo are decked out in 17th-century dress, while the younger romantics are dressed like they have arrived from the 1950s.

"It's a double thing. I felt it would give it a feeling of an updated version -- not make it a real classic rendering of the play. The other thing is I have a diverse cast. The costuming sort of reflects that change. It says change is coming. It may have taken 300 years, but change is coming," Shiomi says.


The Imaginary Invalid
Friday through September 29
Theatre in the Round
245 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.333.3010 or visit online.
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Theatre In the Round

245 Cedar Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55454-1054


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